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Silicon Valley’s Civil War


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Tech’s leadership is splitting into two elites—and the battle between them will shape America’s future
Nadia Asparouhova
May 14, 2023

With an estimated net worth of over $1 billion, Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the Netscape browser and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, is far from an everyman. And yet Andreessen’s biting criticisms of the “entrenched oligarchic structure of the present regime” have made him one of the surprising figureheads of a growing anti-elite movement that could—depending on which side wins out—reshape America’s political and social future.

Andreessen is one of the more prominent names in a new class of tech wealth that includes figures like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel whose political vision and methods conflict both with dot-com tech titans like Bill Gates and Pierre Omidyar, as well as with those of old world industry and media, like Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner. While it might seem strange, given his own position of power, for someone like Andreessen to criticize elites, the truth is that elites have cliques, just like the rest of us. And in the cafeteria of America’s billionaires, Andreessen and his peers are hurling food and spoiling for a fight, while the incumbents are calling in favors at the State Department and New York Times.

Of course, neither camp is driven solely by high-minded ideals, but both maintain fundamentally irreconcilable views of the kind of country they want to build. While Reid Hoffman and Pierre Omidyar, respectively, founders of LinkedIn and eBay, pledged $27 million to help artificial intelligence “vindicate social values of fairness … and justice,” Andreessen publicly laments the ill effects of training artificial intelligence on the “woke mind virus.” Marc Benioff’s company, Salesforce, announced last year that they would tie executive pay to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, which Andreessen has sharply criticized.

While these disagreements may look like a contest between conservatives and liberals, the reality is not that simple. Garry Tan, a successful investor who is now the president and CEO of famed startup incubator Y Combinator, has been a vocal critic of San Francisco’s progressive politics in recent years, while affirming that he has “always been and likely will always be a Democrat.” He and Andreessen, like others, appear to believe instead that this disagreement is centered around the embrace or rejection of a certain set of principles—uncovering and amplifying the best talent, valuing meritocracy over credentialism, fixing problems by circumventing institutions, and thinking from first principles—which underpin the tech industry’s runaway success.

Both camps also believe that the other team is the root of the country’s (and maybe the world’s) problems. It’s a fight worth watching, and understanding, because its outcome will have long-term implications for all of us.

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